Unconscious Mental Life and Reality

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It is the aim of the present collection of seminal essays to offer a balanced yet rigorous examination of the durability and contemporary relevance of psychoanalysis, understood as a comprehensive system of theory and technique. The contributors eschew the establishment of yet another school of Freudian thought, not wishing to add to the already confusing array of competing and conflicting perspectives.Each essay seeks to underscore, refine and add to the perceived strength, richness and flexibility of early psychoanalytic thought. A broad range of psychoanalytic concerns are addressed: the unconscious, mind and brain, mind and body, affect, cognition and character. Each topic is surveyed in a spirit of thoughtful and judicious consolidation. Open, and well-informed, a sure course is taken between the opposing dangers of dogma and fragmentation.Insisting upon a well-grounded appreciation of the origins and historical unfolding of psychoanalysis, and remaining close to both clinical observations and theoretical developments, the present volume looks forward to the continuing fertility and pertinence of psychoanalytical exploration.

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1. The distinctiveness of the psychoanalytic unconscious

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Barry Opatow

This chapter mines the conceptual resources of classical metapsychological theory, especially its most trenchant and dynamic exposition in the final chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams (Freud, 1900a), for its singular contribution to a basic theory of human consciousness. Metapsychology’s fundamental postulate of mind embodied in a sentient organism struggling to survive suggests a deep-lying genetic unity of the mind’s prime motivational, affective, and cognitive activities. This brings into focus the interrelations of desire (and need) to the psychogenesis of objective, experiential reality and, therefore, to the structure of thought in general. In particular, I will try to show how his vital interdependence of thought on reality—and, further, of both on desire—implies the formulation of the psychoanalytic unconscious as a structure of human consciousness.

To endure recognizably as a basic theory, its essence undestroyed, psychoanalysis must, more than most scientific activities, withstand, absorb, and transcend the tidal wave of the “cognitive revolution” immersing all of science and technology. Even physics is not immune, having to cope with the allegation, intended seriously, that the universe is a cosmic algorithm. At stake is whether the informational and neural sciences have at their disposal conceptual resources of sufficient descriptive reach and explanatory force to encompass fully the main theoretical problems of mind—especially those of subjective experience, motivation, and thought—and thus eliminate psychoanalysis as a basic theory altogether. This situation demands inquiry into what is truly essential to the foundations of basic psychoanalytic theory.

 

2. What is affect?

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Mark Solms

Affect has both psychic and physical manifestations

It has been obvious since ancient times—to anyone who cared to look—that affect can be influenced directly, and in specific ways, by physical and chemical means. In the historical epoch during which psychoanalysis was born, the most prominent examples of such influences were (1) neurosyphilitic infection and (2) alcohol, morphine, and cocaine intoxication. As a neurological clinician and researcher, Freud was thoroughly familiar with these topics. He was also aware of the addictive (that is to say, motivational) properties of alcohol, morphine, and cocaine. This knowledge no doubt contributed to the theory of affect that he later developed.

According to Freud’s classical affect theory, all behaviour is ultimately motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of unpleasure, but pleasurable and unpleasurable emotions are merely conscious manifestations of an underlying quasi-physiological process. Freud formulated this underlying process in terms of his concept of “drive” [Trieb], which he defined as:

 

3. Mode of operation of unconscious mental processes as revealed by pathological forms of cognition

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Thomas Freeman

The forms that thinking, perceiving, and remembering assume under the conditions of mental pathology provide a glimpse of a mode of mental functioning that occasionally plays a part in the mental life of the healthy. Pathological forms of cognition take the place of goal-directed, abstract thinking and a veridical representation of reality. Aberrant forms of cognition are a feature of the functional psychoses (the schizophrenias, maniacal psychoses) and organic mental states. Thinking, perceiving, and remembering are disorganized. Through a detailed study conducted over some time, it becomes possible to identify the action of the unconscious mental processes that lead to pathological forms of cognition.

Pathological forms of thinking as substitutes for rational thought

Verbal communication with patients suffering from non-remitting schizophrenias and organic mental states is impeded by perseveration (Freeman, 1969; Schilder, 1953). Utterances are repeated automatically. They continue despite the patient’s attention being drawn to another subject. Perseveration is usually associated with pathological thought content. There is also a lack of grammatical construction. Nouns, verbs, and conjunctions are omitted. In the case of the non-remitting schizophrenias, this disorder of thinking may be preceded or followed by utterances that occur in the colloquial and vernacular speech of the mentally healthy. An individual may describe another by a single perceived characteristic. The following is an utterance of a male schizophrenic patient who said: “See that nurse—that’s a ‘for Christ’s sake’ nurse.” What he could not say was: “He (the nurse) is always shouting ‘for Christ’s sake’/’

 

4. Reflections on the psychoanalytic study of character

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Clifford Yorke

“My dear Tony,” she then blandly replied. “I’ve never known any one like you for not having two grains of observation. I’ve known people with only a little; but a little’s a poor affair. You’ve absolutely none at all, and that, for your character, is the right thing: it’s magnificent and perfect.”

Henry James, The Other House (1948, pp. 53-54)

A background to reflections

I propose to take, as a background to these few reflections, a selective account, interspersed with comment, of an International Colloquium on Character, held at the Anna Freud Centre in 1990.1 There have been other international discussions on the psychoanalytic understanding of character, but this was the only one of which I have first-hand knowledge. It was also well reported; it covered a good deal of ground; and it raised significant questions, not all of which are in sight of resolution.

Summarizing the proceedings at the closing plenary session, Wallerstein (1991) took the opportunity to state some views of his own. He felt that, while it was helpful and informative, the conference had drawn attention to the limitations of psychoanalysis; and the weekend’s deliberations had opened up “vast areas of psychoanalytic ignorance” (p. 249). And he added:

 

5. Of teeth and theft and Poe: non-Lacanian purloining

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Ronnie Bailie

In Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe—newly dead and released at last from the insoluble problem of gratitude— founda dazzlingly eloquent and passionate advocate. In one memorable outburst, the great French poet denounced the “vampire-pedagogue” and called for a by-law “to keep dogs out of cemeteries” (Baudelaire, 1856). He had in mind in particular the violence done to Poe’s memory immediately after his death by Rufus Griswold and did not pause to reflect that Poe had—for reasons to which we will come—assiduously created enemies for the greater part of his short life. Viewed from the closing years of the twentieth century, the outburst has, notwithstanding, its posthumous justness. For while full-length biographies of Poe continue to appear (Myers, 1992; Silverman, 1991) and while he continues to be read and to provoke the extreme reactions in which he took no little pleasure, psychoanalysis, despite the auspicious beginning represented by the work of Marie Bonaparte (Bonaparte, 1933), has in the main—paradoxically—failed to do justice to a man whose life seems almost to have been created for psychoanalytic investigation. This has been, in essence—to continue Baudelaire’s metaphor—because his body has been stolen, which is to say, less fancifully, that it has dropped out of the question because the peculiar emphases of Lacanian psychoanalysis have, for some decades now, dominated psychological approaches to Poe.

 

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